Volunteer Spotlight: Bryan and Maya McGowan

Helping to Create New Americans

by Donna Childs

Photo of Bryan and Maya McGowanThe purpose of these spotlights is to recognize a few of the many wonderful volunteers at the Multnomah County library, so of course, they feature glowing tributes to deserving people.  Even given that, I came away from meeting Bryan and Maya McGowan especially delighted by both of them and impressed with the Multnomah County Library itself.  Bryan and Maya are volunteer instructors in the library’s citizenship classes, a program of six-session classes for immigrants who are studying to pass the United States citizenship examination.

I am impressed with the library for offering such classes. While it may come under the rubric of good citizenship and of promoting literacy, it nonetheless seems a step beyond what might be expected.  Bryan and Maya belong to a cadre of volunteers who teach citizenship classes throughout the library system. Classes focus on preparing for the history, government, and civics portion of the exam, known as the 100 questions, as well as English proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking. The library also provides all the other resources that participants need. Furthermore, the library offers numerous language-learning resources, as well as bilingual staff, books in many languages, conversation circles for English learners (Talk Time), and “amazing online resources for learning English,” according to Bryan. (In a recent year, 27,246 county residents attended 1,843 such programs.)  In 2011, Multnomah County Library received a National Association of Counties Achievement Award for its attention to immigrant communities.

Bryan and Maya bring understanding, commitment and enthusiasm to their task of teaching the citizenship classes.  A passionate, dedicated immigration lawyer, Bryan began his involvement with the citizenship classes as a visiting legal expert at one session and now teaches the six-session classes. An immigrant from Russia, Maya not only brings first-hand experience from her own naturalization, but has also taught English as a second language in Russia. She is now pursuing a master’s degree at PSU to continue teaching in this country.  Together, they share these talents and experiences as they guide new Americans from uncertainty to confidence as they navigate the process of naturalization.

"I couldn't believe our good fortune when not only Bryan, but his wife Maya volunteered to teach citizenship classes," said Melissa Madenski, interim coordinator for adult literacy programs at the library.  "They bring a richness of activities, skills and understanding to the safe environment they create as teachers.  Plus, they are just plain fun to be around!" she added. Bravo, Bryan and Maya (and all the other citizenship instructors), and Bravo, Multnomah County Library!

A Few Facts About Bryan and Maya

Home library: North Portland Library

Currently reading:

Bryan -- The Complete Short Novels by Anton Chekhov

Maya --  Petersburg by Andrey Bely and Gipsovy Trubach by Yuriy Poliakov (in Russian)

Most influential book:

Bryan -- Another Way of Telling by John Berger and Jean Mohr

Maya -- The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Favorite book from childhood:

Maya -- Again it's a Russian book - Dinka by Valentina Oseeva

A book that made you laugh or cry:

Bryan -- The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Maya -- City of Thieves by David Benioff - this book made me laugh and cry.

Favorite section of the library:

Bryan -- History

Maya -- Children's, gardening, and foreign language (Russian in particular if the library has it)

E-reader or paper book?

Bryan -- Paper books

Maya -- I am definitely a paper book reader.

Favorite reading guilty pleasure:

Bryan -- with whiskey

Maya -- Reading detectives. However, it's been quite a while since I read one.

Favorite place to read:

Bryan -- At work!

Maya -- On the couch in the living room

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